James Beard House Evening at Costa di Mare

Cooking at the historic James Beard House in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood is an honor that Chef Mark LoRusso experienced twice before this past March when he showcased Costa di Mare’s passion for seafood.  Inside Mr. Beard’s original kitchen, Chef created a menu that celebrated the fish and shellfish from the Italian coastline.

A Forbes Travel Guide Four Star Award-winning restaurant located inside Wynn Las Vegas, it’s no surprise that Costa di Mare’s seafood program works like a jeweled time piece – geared by 75 fisherman spinning reels of line around Italian coastal waters to deliver the freshest seafood to restaurant guests.

Chef Mark LoRusso

Inside the acclaimed James Beard House, before 63 guests, LoRusso’s goal was to stay true to the heart of Costa di Mare. “I wasn’t just proud of myself, but also of Wynn and the whole team. It took a great team to deliver,” says LoRusso.

LoRusso’s eight-course tasting menu highlighted hard-to-find breeds of fish and crustaceans shipped straight from Italy.  Each dish was paired with stunning regional wines.

“Since our cuisine is Italian, all Italian wines were chosen made from grapes that you can’t find anywhere else in Italy, except mainly in the selected region,” says Miklos Katona, wine manager of Costa di Mare.  “The goal was that the two together (food and wine) would create a higher level of joy and experience on the palate than separately!”

Following the success of the James Beard House event, guests of Costa di Mare, located inside Wynn Las Vegas, can now enjoy the exact same tasting menu.  “A Night at the James Beard House” menu is a celebration of seasonal flavors which starts with Ricci di mare con oilo – sea urchin mousse, served beautifully in a sea urchin shell, with olive oil and chives and paired with a lambrusco by Albine Canali; crudo misto di mare, a crudo trio of cuttlefish delicately sliced like “cappellini,” prawns, Sicilian amberjack and palomita is paired with refreshing and luxurious bubbles of Bella Vista’s Alma Franciacorta Brut.

 

crudo misti di seppia “capellini”, gamberi, ricciola, palomita crudo tasting – cuttlefish “cappellini,” prawns, Sicilian amberjack, palomita -Photo courtesy of Wynn Las Vegas
Bella Vista “Alma Franciacorta Brut”
ricci di mare con olio sea urchin mousse, olive oil, chives
Jermann “Vinnae”

From the organic vineyards of Jermann located in Friuli is a riveting white blend called “Vinnae” which harmonizes with scampi al burro conpiselli di primavera – butter-poached Imperial Langoustine with spring peas. Off the coast of Liguria, comes polipo Ligure all griglia- grilled octopus with crispy potatoes, olive oil-poached fennel and olives follows, which also happens to be a dish that both LoRusso and Katona share a particular affinity.

“We slowly cook the octopus to give it its tender grill marks. There is a nice char on it but not too much, just a light touch,” says LoRusso. “The dish is combined with a little bit of olive vinaigrette, a little bit of rapini, pepper based sauce, all to compliment the octopus. The octopus is the star of the dish.”

polipo Ligure alla griglia grilled octopus, crispy potatoes, olive oil poached fennel, olives, romanesco

 

Together with the Punta Crena Ca’Da Rena, the distinctively Ligurian wine makes a profound pairing from a very special coastal region of northwestern Italy.

“What brings this two elements together, besides that it is a marriage made in the heaven, that not just the flavor but the unique texture of the octopus being complimented by the round texture and wild white floral  aromas of the pigato grape grown on  old vines (35-40 years-old), supported by just enough acidity!” says Katona.

Miklos Katona, Wine Manager at Costa di Mare

Next on the tasting menu is risotto Sardo – Sardinian Red Mullet, bottarga and risotto with mussels.  Bottarga is a local favorite from the island of Sardinia.  It is a brick colored cured fish roe that is shaved on dishes for added flavor and texture. It is best enjoyed with the captivatinig Jankara “Vermentino di Gallura, a 100 percent single vineyard vermentino, also from Sardinia.

Finally, the rombo con caviale Oscietre  – line-caught Mediterranean Turbot with butter-poached leeks and Osetra Caviar –  is an exquisite fish with a perfectly crispy skin making way to a flaky white flesh that harmonizes with Anselmi “Capitel Croce,” a powerful, pure and fresh white wine from the Veneto region.

rombo con caviale Oscietre – line-caught Mediterranean turbot,
butter poached leeks,Osetra caviar

The dinner finishes with bright limoncello semifreddo with limoncello cream, poached rhubarb, strawberry and coconut streusel.  Complemented with a passito from a Sicilian producer, Planeta, the wine is made with moscato bianco grapes that undergo a special drying process that results in a concentrated dessert wine showing explosive aromas of exotic and candied citrus fruits.

Guests who experience the James Beard House dinner at Costa di Mare will be swept to far away Italian waters for a thoughtfully-created, grand seafood feast, quenched by delicious regional wines not readily found in other parts of the globe.

Costa di Mare’s mesmerizing view at Wynn Las Vegas

Omakase dining at Sen of Japan

It’s the way we dined in Tokyo. Hanging out with dad at his favorite sushi spots was like visiting friends, who just happened to be master sushi chefs that knew your palate. Like magic, they’d prepare stunning, one-bite dishes that were presented over the counter like a sacred ritual. Indeed, it was a gift of honor and respect was paid by savoring it.

Dining omakase (o ·ma·ka·se), a Japanese meal that consists of dishes selected and coursed entirely by the restaurant’s sushi chef, is the most traditional way to enjoy sushi. For the true sushi lover and adventurer of food, it’s like receiving a series of surprise gifts, which are hand-crafted with thoughtful care just for you.

After a hot hand towel (oshi·bori) is presented to cleanse your hands and dietary restrictions covered, then it’s time to relax and welcome a multi-course selection of deliciousness. With exacting precision, chef prepares the freshest fish of the moment, not to mention fish of the highest caliber. Each one requires a different mastery.

In Las Vegas, Chefs Hiromi Nakano and Shinji Shichiri of Sen of Japan deliver an experience that keeps the curious and adventurous coming back for more. The product of two masters from the Las Vegas strip – Nakano from Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s Nobu and Shichiri from Bellagio’s Shintaro (now Yellowtail) –  there is no denying their culinary talent and synergy. Sourcing only fish that exceeds their expectations translates to an unsurpassed dining experience.  And if you’re seeking to discover more about any of the fish they serve, ask anyone and they’ll be able to tell you where it was caught and when.

Here is a look at their recent offerings. Next time I go, it will be completely different.  That’s the beauty of omakase.

Kanpachi (amberjack) with roasted garlic slivers, sea bream with micro greens and kiwi vinaigrette.
Sashimi salad featuring four different fish: Suzuki sea bass, Big Eye tuna, Scottish salmon and fluke presented with garlic oil and capers.
Poached lobster from Maine with spicy lemongrass dressing and sun-dried beets.
A Sen of Japan signature dish – Alaskan black cod, topped with foie gras, flash-fried shishito pepper, wasabi aioli and crushed red peppercorns.
Succulent cuts of filet mignon served with Peruvian bell pepper sauce, asparagus and micro greens.
Assorted nigiri (L-R): Akami (lean blue fin tuna from Spain) brushed with wasabi soy; Japanese snapper, shiso leaf and sea salt; Shima ahi (striped jack), kombu and yuzu soy; fresh scallop with spicy lime dressing; seared Tasmanian ocean trout with spicy ponzu sauce; tekka maki (tuna roll)

 

Obento box with house-made chocolate soufflé and green tea ice cream to finish the evening.

Recipe: English Lavender Chicken

This past Easter, Craig’s aunt, Charlene West, prepared lavender chicken during her stay with us.  For many years, Charlene ran a catering company.  Then, for the past 18 years, she owned a flower shop.  Now retired, it seemed fitting to celebrate her visit with this delightful dish that infuses the essence of English lavender with the common poultry.  It’s deliciously fragrant and very easy to prepare.

RECIPE:
4-5 lavender stalks
8-10 chicken pieces (trim excess fat)
6 cloves of garlic (rough chopped)
Extra virgin olive oil (enough to coat bottom of pan and chicken)
salt
pepper
Extra lavender for garnish

Brine chicken in salty water in refrigerator for 24 hours.

Coat the bottom of a 9×13 pan with olive oil.  Tear lavender leaves into pieces. Add chicken, garlic, lavender leaves and flowers, salt and pepper, then coat with more olive oil.  Roast in oven at 400 degrees for 1 hour or until done.

 

My battle with turkey

I’ll just come right out and say it. I don’t love Turkey. I love Thanksgiving, though, and in honor of the first Thanksgiving in 1621 and respect for tradition, I understand why we eat turkey. And I’m grateful. But, I’m willing to bet that many would agree that turkey is just not high on the scale of deliciousness  – or else we’d actually be eating it more than once a year.

As far as I’m concerned, no amount of creativity can make it palatable. It has proven to be invincibly banal, whether roasted, deep-fried, broiled, braised, cooked on a beer can upside down, what have you.

Just consider what you have to do to make it taste better in the most traditional way.  Brine it for at least 24 hours, butter the holy heck out of it (ok the skin’s pretty good), stuff it with bread pieces, that when done, typically comes out like gummy goo held together with traces of turkey blood of sorts (nice),  and then drown it in gravy moments before it enters our mouths.

The problem is with the turkey itself, so cheating yourself of the one thing it’s good for — a spectacular presentation — is really silly behavior.

If you are determined to cook it as perfectly as possible, try smoked turkey… Then, chop the meat up and make chili… with lots and lots of beans, peppers, onions, spices, a sprinkle of grated chocolate, then simmered for a very, very, very long time. At serving, garnish with cheese, cilantro and onions.

Now you’re asking, where is the turkey in this dish?  Exactly.

 

Photo: courtesy of shoboxlog.com

Bocce & Bottles 2016

For a long time, the game of bocce was purely for old Italian men. They wanted to get away from the wives and kids so they could smoke, cuss, scratch themselves when they wanted to … you know, the court was where they could do this all freely.   After all, women would just take the fun out of everything, right?

balls

These days the game of bocce has evolved to gather all ages, all genders, all abilities, making it one of the most social games, and it has truly become a personal favorite of ours. With a glass of wine in one hand, a ball in the other, it’s a symbiotic relationship that fosters hours of entertainment and laughter.

marisa

Finally, this year, we hosted our first annual “Bocce & Bottles” tournament.  The games got quite exciting!  Those with even the most minimal experience were able to get right next to the pallino. More vengeful players strategically knocked their friends’ balls out of the way. And when two balls were in question, we’d unravel the string from the copper cup to determine whose ball was closer. Yes, so much fun!  We are so fortunate to have such wonderful friends. Times like this is worth capturing and sharing. Here are photos (taken by Shawna Quenneville) to re-cap the event…

THE PLAYERS:group-shot

(L-R): Ada Feliciano, Craig Finetti, Eduard Ajdini, Marisa Finetti, Lisa Ajdini, Alison Bradley, Bill Bradley, Michelle Tenazas, Jared Cooper, Corinne Leo,  Liz Davar, Henry Davar, Kirk Peterson and Allison Bernhardt (George Chambers and Mini not pictured)

kirk

dinner

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craig

cup
“Cup the ball” with our homemade measuring device.

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cooper

gathering

scoreboard

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alison
Looks like victory!

michelle

group

THE BOTTLES:

wine-on-table

the-bottles

more-wine

opening-bottle

glasses

Egly-Ouriet, Brut Tradition, Grand Cru NV
Wind Gap Trousseau Gris 2013
Giovanni Rosso, Barbera, Donna Margherita 2014
Contratto For England Rosé 2008
Contratto Millesimato Extra Brut 2010
Jean Foillard, Morgon, Cuvée Corcelette 2013
Chateau Tourans Saint-Émilion 2010
Nigl Grüner Veltliner 2005
Unanime Gran Vino Tinto 2012
The Prisoner 2014
Contadi Castaldi Rosé Franciacorta
Chateau Touran Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2010
Portal Reserva Douro 2010
Leeuwin Estate Riesling 2010

THE FOOD:
An array of delicious food brought by friends, plus local restaurant favorites, like Daily Kitchen’s family meal, which included Brussels sprouts, macaroni & cheese, Mary’s all-natural rotisserie chicken, Certified Angus tri-tip beef, kale salad and flourless chocolate cake.

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daily-kitchen-chocolate-cake

plates

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eating

Chicharonnes from China Poblano
Chicharonnes from China Poblano

THE WINNERS:

medals


1st Place – Liz & Henry Davarimg_1586

2nd Place – Lisa and Eduard Ajdini
eduard

3rd Place  – Yours truly – Marisa & Craig Finetti

 

Photos:  Shawna Quenneville

Get personal with Chef Pierre Gagnaire

When I asked the illustrious Chef Pierre Gagnaire to articulate his sheer genius in the kitchen, he leaned over and with a gentle smile that came through his deep steel blue eyes, to say, “I try to create an emotion.”

Clearly, Gagnaire has such an ability.  His food is as artistic as it is delicious. Edible art that is simple, and also ingeniously creative, his creations are capable of drawing out feelings of love, happiness, inspiration, delight, curiosity, ultimate pleasure.

Yet, Gagnaire is modest in every way.  Though he has gained a cult of international devotees and owns highly-acclaimed restaurants worldwide and has garnered three Michelin stars for his eponymous restaurant in Paris, he finds himself short of expressing his brilliance. But he understands that his business is a process and that constant evolution has allowed him to stay at the forefront of the international culinary scene and remain relevant in an ever-changing world.

Gagnaire is the type of individual that is present at every front. By example, this is one of the reasons for his visit to his only U.S. restaurant, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, located on the 23rd floor of Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas. Working alongside his kitchen team, Chef de Cuisine Frederic Don, and wine director, Master Sommelier Will Costello, he says that consistency is supremely important – one that takes patience, the ability to empower his team to envision his idea, then organically allow their magic to take place in the kitchen.

“He creates an environment of family which allows me to have his full support when I am creating new menu items,” says Twist’s, Chef de Cuisine Frederic Don. “Most of all, he trusts our team.”

Gagnaire has always encouraged chefs to break free of the rules that have governed the French canon for so long.

“Finally, one day I was ready to open my vision with all these chefs,” says Gagnaire, “A chef has the capacity to translate .. he or she is talented.  I’m obsessed with the quality, and I try to give the process. Not the recipe, never the recipe – just the idea.”

The feeling of creativity, design and artistry delights the senses from the very moment you enter Twist. The majestic floor-to-ceiling windows heighten the energy in the dining room and a dramatic glass staircase leads up to a suspended wine loft.  The restaurant also boasts a most striking lighting feature, which incorporates more than 300 spheres designed to look like bubbles floating across the ceiling. All this, is after being greeted by hundreds of silk purple butterflies that are seemingly an extension of the warm hospitality one receives as a guest.

twist-at-mo-las-vegas

Twist by Pierre Gagnaire continues to garner accolades for its groundbreaking menu of classic French cuisine, from vegetarian specialties, like Jardinière (Fava Beans, English Peas, Spring Onions Baby Carrots in Onion and Curry Juice English Pea Soup), to Muscovy Duck from Grimaud Farm (Thinly sliced with Cassis Bigarade Sauce Celeriac-Red Beetroot, Baby Carrots Turmeric Pommes Gaufrettes, Bacon Powder), Chef’s creations are a “twist” on the contemporary.

Gagnaire admits that his life in the culinary world was specified at an early age. His father was a chef, and while his siblings opted for other careers, cooking became Gagnaire’s destiny.  After working under some of the finest chefs in the business, he struck out on his own in the town of St Étienne, where his illustrious career took flight.

Since then, he has overseen the development of a number of restaurants around the world, from London, to Paris, to Seoul and Dubai – each of which stay true to the defining quality and innovation synonymous with Chef Gagnaire.

But, working closely with his team is where he feels most at home.  He explains how relationships are made through food, not only with his guests, but also with his team.

“I didn’t have a [career] choice, but I found that it was possible to tell a story.  Food creates relationships with people, and people are the keys to my life.”

marisa-finetti-will-costello-pierre-gagnaire

Secrets to making the perfect popover

Once the chill hits the air, it just feels like popover season to me. And yes, I make them for self-indulgent reasons, but also for the pure entertainment factor. When they rise gloriously beyond the walls of the pan to magnificent heights, it’s a show you want to experience front and center. Then, consume at once!

Popover_Love and Relish blog1

But, why do they rise like that? It’s actually the steam that is built up inside the popover, which creates a hollow pocket and rises, pushing the popover higher and higher .. oh my goodness! (Make sure you don’t have another oven rack above it). The steam also cooks the inside, creating the most supple, custard-like texture that deliciously contrasts with the crunchy  exterior.  It’s really a magical creation.

IMG_2837
The functional form of the popover pan.

The popover is an American version of a Yorkshire pudding. It’s a light and hollow roll that is made from an egg batter. One of the secrets to making the perfect popover is using a popover pan.  It looks like a muffin pan, but each individual well is actually separate from the others, which allows hot air to circulate evenly around each well.

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Another tip is the make the pan very hot prior to adding the batter.  This will ensure that you achieve the steam needed to push them up, up, up!

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Fill popover pan just below half-way up.
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If you choose to add cheese, add 10 minutes into baking (quickly!)
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Enjoy at once!

Ingredients to make 12 poppers (2 pans)

1 1/2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, + softened butter for greasing pans
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups milk, at room temperature
Optional: One or two  1″ piece of Gruyere cheese.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Generously grease popover pans with softened butter. Place the pans in the hot oven for exactly 2 minutes to preheat. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, salt, eggs, milk, and melted butter until smooth. The batter will be liquid thin. Fill the popover pans less than half full and bake for exactly 30 minutes, or until they are golden brown and tall. If you have window in your oven, watch the show. Otherwise, don’t peek.

Serve immediately with breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

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Seattle’s Spinasse Charms the Palate and Soul

The moment I arrived at Spinasse (pronounced speh-nah-say), in the gastronomically-gifted Capitol Hill area of Seattle, I was in love.  On the street level of this handsome, multi-storied brick building,  an intimate spot welcomes us with charming outdoor seating consisting of wooden plank tables, surrounded by a whimsy of colorful chairs.  An old-world iron sign hangs above the quaint entrance door, of which the window is tastefully etched “Cascina Spinasse.”

Spinasse_sign_

A peek through the glass is like looking into a rustic Italian farmhouse. Wooden trestle tables with knotty imperfections imply generations of celebrations with suppers and wine that had been consumed around them. Soft and delicate ivory lace curtains grace the front windows, wrought-iron chandeliers illuminate the cozy space, and mismatched wood and marble countertops suggest a sense of history and soul.  Any more rustic, and I’d have arrived by wagon.

We sit in a cozy corner table next to the window,  but this isn’t a quiet dinner spot at the 8 o’clock hour by any means. Conversations just inches away give the entire space a comforable, convivial vibe.

Spinasse Door Love and Relish

I knew that Spinasse was one of those places that is hotly acclaimed by fervent foodies. It’s easy to understand why, with robust platters of pan-roasted rib eye with plums and spring onions, lovage and balsamic, to a light arugula, fennel, prosciutto cotto and green bean salad with cherry tomatoes and fennel maioneses – everything is lovingly prepared, oiled, and seasoned.

The pasta is capable of achieving density and delicacy at the same time, in the fine hand cut egg pasta (tamarin) with butter sage – a classic Spinasse dish – or hearty cavatelli with beef short rib and shoulder ragu with marinated cherry tomatoes and parmigiana.  Everything is a masterpiece that pays homage to northern Italian region of Piemonte (Piedmont),  under the creative and passionate direction of Executive Chef Stuart Lane.

Lane attended the Italian Culinary Institute in a castle in Piemonte at Costigliole d’Asti.  He later staged at the Hotel Monte del Re in Dozza Italy outside of Bologna in the heart of Emilia-Romagna.  While there, he crafted tortellini by the thousands and was immersed in the Italian food culture. Today, Lane oversees the menus at Spinasse and the adjacent casual Italian eatery and bar, Artusi.   He is passionate about Piemonte, and you can taste it in the food and in the wine.

Photos by Suzi-Pratt.com
Executive Chef Stuart Lane Photo by Suzi-Pratt.com
Egg fonduta _Spinasse
Uovo con fonduta – poached egg with parmigiano fondue and fried sage.
Prosciutto di Parma_Spinasse_Love_and_Relish_Blog
Pio Tosini 14 month aged prosciutto with cantaloupe and laudemio olive oil. Green bean salad with prosciutto cotto.

handmade pasta

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Tarajin al burro e salvia – Hand-cut egg pasts with butter and sage. Photo by Suzi-Pratt.com
Agnolotti di melanzana
Agnolotti di melanzana – eggplant and anchovy agnolotti with peperonata and parmigiano.

handmade pasta Spinasse

Spinanasse-33 pasta
Cavatelli al ragu di manzo – Cavatelli with beef short rib and shoulder ragu with marinated cherry tomatoes and parmigiano. Photo by Suzi-Pratt.com

Barbaresco

Spinasse_Love_and_Relish_Blog
Mascarpone cheese cake with huckleberries.

Overall, the experience is one to remember. The interior is charming and picturesque, with the kitchen-view dining as a portrait in craft, as well as a warm welcome to this old world space. Spinasse is one of Seattle’s most delicious places. I can’t wait to go back.